A Rochester Retrospective: New Exhibit in Local History!

2017 marks the bicentennials and centennials of some of the major events that shaped  Rochester’s history. A Rochester Retrospective: Celebrating the Past 200 Years, an exhibit opening next week in the Local History division, will showcase four landmark local and national events that influenced Rochester’s social, political and economic development.


Before there was Rochester, there was Rochesterville. The city’s predecessor village was incorporated two hundred years ago, on March 21, 1817.

The pioneering individuals who populated Rochesterville helped lay the foundations for the city as we know it today. Initial settlers in the area such as Hamlet Scrantom, whose family cabin once stood at the current site of the Powers’ Building, encountered and contended with a rough landscape where both wild animals and disease were common.


A circa 1800 painting of the Upper Falls by Louis Charles d’Orleans Beaujolais.

Despite these perilous conditions, settlers were drawn to the region due to its waterfalls, which early entrepreneurs took advantage of to power the mills that helped foster Rochesterville’s economic and demographic growth.

The area’s growth was also aided by another waterway, which, like Rochesterville, is also celebrating its bicentennial this year.

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A circa 1853 lithograph picturing the Erie Canal.


The digging of what became known as “Clinton’s Ditch” (after New York State governor, Dewitt Clinton) began on July 4th, 1817. Local work on the Erie Canal started four years later.

The major task facing Rochesterville was the construction of an aqueduct that would carry the canal over the Genesee River.  The span was completed in the fall of 1823 and two years later, the entire 363-mile long waterway was finished.

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Plan of the first Erie Canal aqueduct, drawn before its completion.

The Erie Canal had an immense impact of the village’s development—it not only sparked a population boom, but it also helped fuel and diversify the area’s economy by providing an inexpensive and quick means of transporting locally produced materials to a wider market. The waterway helped make Rochester one of America’s first boom towns and sowed the seeds for its continued industrial growth in the 19th century.

A year before the last canal boat sailed through downtown Rochester, the United States entered World War I.


Soldiers on the SS Czar en route to France in 1918.

The country formally entered  the conflict one hundred years ago on April 6, 1917. Both Rochester’s residents and its industries played significant roles in the war effort.

While Rochester sent  91,000 men overseas, back home the city shifted into a total war economy. Local organizations, businesses and private citizens became vital to the war effort.

Volunteers from the Red Cross cut and wrapped bandages and surgical dressings,  in addition to soliciting donations. Rochesterians also rolled up their sleeves and pitched in at their places of employment, with approximately 75 Rochester businesses participating in war industry production.

By the time the conflict ended, more than 500 citizens had lost their lives, and Rochester had contributed more of its own dollars and time to the war effort than almost any other American city of comparable size.

Exactly seven months after the United States entered WWI, Women’s Suffrage was passed in New York State.


Parade to Susan B. Anthony’s tomb ca 1920s.

The historic victory on November 6, 1917, 70 years in the making, was influenced in no small part by the efforts of Rochester-area women.

The origin of the woman’s rights movement is traditionally traced to the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, where attendees signed a Declaration of Sentiments calling for the equal treatment of women on a host of issues, as well as the right to vote. Rochester hosted a larger, but lesser known convention two weeks later, which marked the first time a woman (Abigail Bush) led a public meeting attended by both women and men.

Susan B. Anthony joined the fight for women’s rights three years later and was responsible for relocating the headquarters of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association to Rochester.

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Susan B. Anthony’s home at 17 Madison Street for a time served as the New York State Woman Suffrage Association’s headquarters.

Though Anthony’s involvement in the cause was key, other local, yet less well-known suffragists were also instrumental in the New York State law’s eventual passage in 1917.

Their stories are highlighted in A Rochester Retrospective: Celebrating the Past 200 Years.

The exhibit pays tribute to these four historic events using photographs, artifacts and ephemera from the collections of the Local History & Genealogy division of the Central Library of Rochester and the Rochester Historical Society.

Patrons can visit the exhibit on the 2nd floor of the Rundel Library from September through December, 2017.

-Emily Morry


Published in: on August 31, 2017 at 3:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Rapids: A History of Castletown

As we have seen, cemeteries can be clues to the history of lost communities. What was true of King’s/Hanford’s Landing is also true of the 19th century cemetery officially called The Rapids Cemetery, but more commonly known as the Congress Avenue Cemetery (established 1810). The cemetery leads us into the history of another forgotten settlement that now comprises the 19th Ward and portions of the 3rd Ward (“Corn Hill”) of the City of Rochester.


The Rapids Cemetery, Congress Avenue near Genesee Street

The community’s existence preceded that of Rochester. In 1790, James Wadsworth purchased 2,000 acres from Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham for 80 cents an acre. A few years later, he purchased an additional 4,000 acres for 50 cents an acre. Wadsworth’s real estate holdings were said to be so vast that he could travel from Geneseo to Rochester without ever leaving his own land.

In reviewing his land holdings, Wadsworth came to the spot that later became the intersection of Brooks and South Plymouth Avenues. He believed the site was ideal for settlement, being located where the Genesee River begins to pick up speed as it rounds the bend heading for the first of several waterfalls in what is now Rochester.

In 1800, Wadsworth built a tavern and store at the site and hired Isaac Castle to manage them. Thereafter the community was officially known at Castletown, but its location by the river gave it the more common, but less grandiose nickname of “The Rapids.”


The Genesee Rapids, near Brooks Avenue (1902)

Wadsworth’s belief in the viability of his settlement was rooted in its location. With few roads in and out of the settlement, aside from a few well-trodden Indian trails, most goods to market had to travel the Genesee and then be transported by land to Lake Ontario, where they could be shipped to other early New York settlements or across the lake to Canada. Wadsworth envisioned Castletown as an ideal fording point from the river to land, bypassing the High, Middle and Lower Falls between the settlement and Lake Ontario.

In its initial decades, “The Rapids” was a transportation hub, with grain, pork, lumber, barrel staves, flour and other goods passing through the community. Shortly after the tavern and store were established, a church, a school and several houses were built, but the growth of the community would be short-lived.  In 1822, a feeder canal (located at the present site of the Brooks Avenue bridge) was built to supply Genesee River water to the new Erie Canal. Because of the feeder, boats no longer had to unload at Castletown. They turned off the river and poled up the feeder to the main canal at Rochester (where Mount Hope and South Avenues converge).


The Genesee Rapids, near Brooks Avenue (2008)

The neighborhood fell into an economic slump until 1888 when the Elmwood Avenue Bridge was built and the new Genesee Valley Park opened. The summer recreation opportunities the park afforded made The Rapids neighborhood a desirable residential area. It is in this period the present 19th Ward we know took shape. Properties were subdivided, streets were laid out and homes were built. In 1902, the settlement (which at that point was part of the town of Gates) was annexed by the City of Rochester. The neighborhood was no longer the rough settlement filled with “laborers, teamsters, and boatmen … given to gossip, intemperance and contention” (as it was described in one contemporary description), but a middle-class neighborhood of Rochester, whose residents then as now travel the old Indian trails (now widened, paved and known as Brooks Avenue, Genesee Street, Plymouth Avenue, and Scottsville Road).

Castletown-Melrose St

Melrose Street in the 19th Ward, ca 1994.

-Christopher Brennan


Published in: on August 22, 2017 at 5:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fall Town: A Brief Sketch of Hanford’s Landing


History is all around us if we have eyes to see it. A good example is the mysterious cemetery at the corner of Lake Avenue and Maplewood Drive in northwest Rochester.  Hundreds of people drive by it every day as they exit from 104 West via Maplewood. Most don’t notice it, and those who do, often don’t know why it is there. Who are the people buried there, and what does the cemetery tell us about the early history of the Maplewood neighborhood?


The Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the Revolutionary War, ceded to the United States all British-owned land to the Mississippi River, but certain boundary questions remained. What, for example, were the rights of Americans for the use of Lake Ontario, the border between the new nation and British-owned Canada? In an effort to protect the Canadian fur trade, Lieutenant General John Simcoe (the British authority in Canada) prevented any American boats from sailing on the lake. Such boundary disputes were resolved by the Jay Treaty of 1795.

The following year, two Revolutionary War soldiers, Gideon King and Zadok Granger, came to the area from Connecticut seeking to buy land as a suitable settlement and investment. After purchasing 3000 acres each from Oliver Phelps, the two returned to Connecticut.

In 1797, King returned accompanied by Daniel Graham (his brother-in-law), Elijah Kent (another Revolutionary War soldier), Zadok Granger, Zadok’s son Eli, and King’s own sons, Thomas and Simon King, among others. The new settlers set out a village boundary, established home lots, erected log cabins, established a road down to the river below the lower falls, and built a dock for shipping between the river and the lake, as well as a 40-ton schooner (the Jemima). Trade was begun between the settlement and Oswego, with locals exchanging potash for salt.


Path from Lake Avenue Down to the Landing (1905)

However, “Genesee Fever” (likely typhoid or malaria) put an end to the nascent hopes of the community known originally as Fall Town (later known as King’s Landing, for the founding family). In 1798, Gideon King died of the ailment, along with two of his sons (Daniel Graham King and Bildad King). Also affected was brother-in-law Daniel Graham. It is said that twenty people among the initial settlers died in the 1798 infestation, which led to the creation of the cemetery. It remained in continuous use through much the 19th century. The last recorded burial is dated 1887.

Despite the deaths, other members of the family continued to reside in the settlement, as it was one of the few places for lodging in the early Genesee country at the time, and accounts exist of travelers staying there. It is clear, however, that the community was all but dead by 1809 when seven brothers (led by Frederick and Abraham Hanford) came to the former King’s Landing site from Rome, New York.

hanford-steamboat tavern

Steamboat Hotel (later Hanford Tavern, 1809-1884)


In January 1810, Frederick Hansford opened a store at the landing, at which he sold dry goods, groceries, hardware and crockery. Business noticeably declined during the War of 1812, and the brothers fled the area, only to return after peace was restored. After the war, the Hanfords established a successful trading business at the landing and erected the Steamboat Hotel. They also built warehouses to store the goods in transit at the dock. Gideon King’s younger sons, Bradford and Moses (who had fled the settlement two decades before) returned to promote the sale of their remaining land.

The economic activity generated by the Hanfords’ settlement led to the area being known not as Fall Town, or King’s Landing, but Hanford’s Landing, a community that competed for a time with Carthage (across the river) for viability. Though it declined economically after the Erie Canal opened in Rochester, the community survived into the 20th century. It was finally incorporated within the city limits of Rochester in 1919.


-Christopher Brennan

Published in: on August 15, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Carthage: Rochester’s Forgotten Rival

Residents of the City of Rochester may not know they live within the boundaries of Frankfort, Dublin and other long-lost communities that never developed as their founders hoped. We have heard of the first two settlements in earlier postings. In this first of a series of blog posts on Rochester’s long-lost communities, we will explore a settlement that once sought to displace Rochester as the principal Genesee River community.

Carthage was a settlement that once flourished on what is now St. Paul Street between East Ridge Road and Clifford Avenue.  Its earliest settler was Caleb Lyon, whose pre-1809 home was near the present site of the Rochester School for the Deaf (1545 St. Paul Street). As was true of early Rochesterville, there was no clearing at first. Dense woods, a population of wild animals (deer, bear, wolves and wildcats), and a deep gorge made transportation of any produce to the mouth of the river (for delivery to other markets) difficult.

The development of the community was a consequence of the partnership of Elisha B. Strong, Heman Norton and Elisha Beach, who saw potential in the settlement’s location. The three purchased Caleb Lyons’ land in 1816, established a public square at what is now Avenue D and a land office on Avenue E. They built 40 dwellings, mills and warehouses, on the high bank and at the bottom of the gorge. They also built an inclined railway that allowed access from the high bank to the gorge below, permitting the transfer of goods from the settlement to ships that then sailed the river to Lake Ontario and onward to other ports.

In 1817, Strong and company petitioned the New York State Legislature for a loan of $10,000 to build a toll bridge to connect the two ends of Ridge Road separated by the river gorge.  Work on the wooden Carthage bridge commenced in May 1818. When completed in 1819, the bridge was regarded as the “eighth wonder of the world.” The bridge was 120 feet long and 230 feet high; no other bridge then in existence was as tall. Unfortunately, it only lasted 15 months before collapsing of its own weight on May 22, 1820, two hours after a loaded team of wagons had passed over it.


The original wooden Carthage Bridge.
It collapsed of its own weight 15 months after construction. 

The failure of the bridge doomed all hopes for the settlement’s organizers. With no income from tolls, their financial resources were depleted and New York State insisted on repayment of the $10,000 loan. With the construction of the Erie Canal through downtown Rochester a few years later, the city to the south became the economic engine for the region. Access to the lake was no longer needed to ship goods, and so the economy of Carthage collapsed. The community was incorporated into Rochester in 1834.  Today the only reminders of the once proud settlement are the neighborhood road names that harken back to its early days: Beach Street; Carthage Street; Norton Street; and Strong Street.

Carthage fountain

Carthage Memorial Tower and Fountain
(1907-1931, St. Paul and Norton Streets)


-Christopher Brennan

Published in: on August 1, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Gypsies, Trotters and Races: the Rise and Fall of the Rochester Driving Park


RDP-driving park map new

We saw in a recent blog post that Dewey Avenue owes its jog at the corner of Driving Park Avenue to a race course that once stood at the intersection.

The Rochester Driving Park was best known for its horse races, but the venue hosted a diverse assortment of events and guests during its almost 30 year existence.

When the Driving Park held its first horse race on August 11, 1874, the facility was billed as the fastest mile track in the United States. It quickly gained fame among race enthusiasts and proved a major draw for both locals and tourists alike.



Inaugural meeting of the Rochester Driving Park, 1874.

During the park’s first week of operation, all the hotels in Rochester were filled to capacity, forcing some race fans to sleep in the open fields near the track. Twenty thousand people had packed the park by its second day to catch a glimpse of renowned trotter, Goldsmith Maid.

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Illustration of the Driving Park’s entrance and one-mile track.

Though for a time the park enjoyed its status as the most famous racetrack in the world, by the 1890s, Rochester’s love affair with the Driving Park had begun to fade, likely due in part to the introduction of a series of anti-betting laws in New York State.



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A circa 1893 Rochester Driving Park racing form.

Rumours began to circulate that the site was going to be sold and converted into a residential tract. Such gossip gained more currency after the park hosted its last Grand Circuit race in 1895.

The park continued to host non-Circuit horse races along with bicycle races, athletic contests, battle reenactments, circuses and Buffalo Bill’s annual Wild West Show.


Ad for an upcoming Wild West Show at the Rochester Driving Park. Democrat & Chronicle, July 31, 1895.

A devastating fire in 1899, which caused $20,000 worth of damage and destroyed two of the park’s three stands, did not bode well for those who sought to revive the park’s elite trotter tradition.

Some efforts were nevertheless made to salvage the site.

On Memorial Day in 1900, theDriving Park hosted automobile races-then a novelty- in the attempts to raise funds for the construction of a new grandstand. And in 1902, the park welcomed the Grand Wallace three-ring circus, which boasted “a small army of active, jolly clowns” and “the largest hippo in captivity.”

These last grasps at survival were ultimately for naught. In September 1902, George W. Archer purchased the Rochester Driving Park property at a public auction for 34,750$.

But before the site could be cut up into building lots, it served as the temporary home of a band of Gypsies (Romani) that had come to Rochester from Serbia via Chicago.

Their presence was not welcomed by many in the local community, who petitioned for their removal from the park and accused them of stealing everything from milk cans and mops to shoes and soap. One area resident claimed that one of the Serbians had nabbed his horse.

But while Rochester residents found fault with their new neighbours, they were nevertheless intrigued by their culture and folkways.

On November 9, 1902, almost 10,000 people were drawn to the park to witness the Gypsy camp firsthand. A remark by one of the young sightseers directed towards a three year old Serbian girl performing the “Hoochie-Coochie,” incited a skirmish that developed into a full-scale riot between the Romani and the Rochesterians that wasn’t quelled until a half a dozen police officers were called to the scene.

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The sensational headline appearing in the November 10, 1902 issue of the Democrat and Chronicle.

The Serbians had packed up and left by year’s end and the 200-acre former racetrack plot was divided into the series of streets that now make up the Rochester Driving Park tract.

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The developing Rochester Driving Park Tract, ca 1910. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1910.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on July 18, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments (4)  

What’s in A Name? : Street Names as Clues to Local History

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked. Well, for one thing, a name may be a convenient entry point to local history. Look up at the street signs. Many are named for people. Who were they? What did they do? Let’s explore by tracking the three individuals for whom Brooks Avenue, Culver Road and Fitzhugh Street are named.

Brooks Avenue is named for Lewis Brooks (ca. 1793-9 August 1877). Originally a manufacturer of wool, he later pursued various mercantile interests, retiring at age 44. He spent the rest of his life managing his real estate holdings and making various charitable bequests. Along with several other Quakers, he erected a rural retreat at what is today the intersection of Brooks Avenue and Genesee Park Boulevard. Brooks was a friend of Susan B. Anthony, who spent several summer vacations and holidays there. Following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, fugitive slaves  would find refuge with Brooks on their way to Canada.  He also was an officer in the Rochester City Temperance Society, and served on the first Rochester Common Council (as an alderman from the First Ward). Today his body is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.

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Oliver Culver (1778-1867)

Culver Road and Oliver Street are both named for Oliver Culver (September 24, 1778-February 2, 1867), among the earliest settlers of Rochester, although at the time his home was located in what was then part of Brighton. Born in Connecticut, he arrived to the area from Hartford in 1805, where he built a home and tavern at what is now the corner of Culver Road and East Avenue. The home was expanded in stages until 1818 and still exists as a private residence (later moved to 70 East Boulevard). With assistance from Rochesterville and surrounding communities, Culver helped clear land and construct what is today East Avenue, as well as Culver Road (which was the route he used to access the closest harbor at Irondequoit Bay). He built canal packet boats and lake schooners (including a 47-ton schooner that was drawn to the Bay by a team of 26 oxen) and participated in maritime commerce as far east as Montreal. He was the first Brighton Town Supervisor (1814, later serving additional one-year terms). He also served as a New York State Assemblyman (1820-21), in which capacity he helped establish Monroe County. He was also one of the co-founders of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.  His remains are buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.

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Oliver Culver House, 70 East Boulevard

Fitzhugh Street was originally much longer, running from Allen Street south to Edinburgh Street (in Corn Hill). Today, part of it has been displaced by the Civic Center Garage. The street was named for Colonel William Fitzhugh (8 October 1761-December 29, 1839), a partner of Nathaniel Rochester and co-owner of the 100 Acre Tract that was the basis of first the village of Rochesterville, and later the city, of Rochester.


North Fitzhugb St and West Main St (ca. 1909) Building on the left is the former Duffy-Powers Department store (later downtown campus of R.I.T.)

Fitzhugh was born in Calvert County, Maryland. During the American Revolution, he served in the 3rd Continental Dragoons (1779-1783), following which he moved to Hagerstown, Maryland, where he served as a director of the Hagerstown Bank (serving alongside Colonel Rochester and Charles Carroll). Among their common interests was investment in real estate. In 1803, he, Charles Carroll and Col. Rochester reviewed the territory from the High Falls to Hansford’s Landing (near Ridge Road and Lake Avenue) and saw the area’s potential for milling. He did not settle here permanently (as Rochester did eventually), but moved to Groveland in Livingston County. Fitzhugh’s remains are buried in Williamsburg Cemetery, Groveland, New York.

-Christopher Brennan



Published in: on July 11, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)  

The Erie Canal: A Bicentennial Profile

The recent transport of the Genesee Beer tanks along the Barge Canal gave new attention to a long-forgotten element of the state transportation system: New York’s canals. This amnesia is unfortunate as the canal system in general made New York State into the Empire State, and one canal in particular made Rochester into the Flour City: the Erie Canal.

Few roads existed in early New York. Farmers in western New York could not get their wares to the more populated eastern portion of the state and no means existed to transport goods to the new Northwest Territory (now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota).

The plan for a great east-west canal is commonly attributed to New York Governor Dewitt Clinton, but the idea did not originate with him and was even approved before his first gubernatorial term began on July 1, 1817. In 1784, engineer Christopher Colles proposed a canal between the Hudson River and Lake Ontario, but the idea went nowhere.

In 1807, a new proposal for a canal was offered, and the following year a survey was undertaken, which discussed potential route options. After 1808, debate began within the legislature, which was later tabled during the War of 1812. The final hurdles were overcome through the support of Clinton (who was a member of the Erie Canal Commission as of 1810).  Funding for construction of the canal received final approval April 15, 1817.

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Winter Scene: Skating on the Erie Canal, ca. 1874.

Construction of “Clinton’s Ditch” (as it was known) began July 4, 1817. Initial efforts involved the portion between the Hudson River through the Mohawk Valley to Utica, which opened to traffic in the fall of 1820. As the work commenced on the portion between Utica and Buffalo, debate began again, as the 1817 legislation did not provide for a route past the Seneca River.

Questions surrounded whether the western portion of the canal would go through Canandaigua (to the south) or Rochester (to the north)? The ultimate selection of the Rochester route meant that the village became a manufacturing center; its flour, spirits and machine tools could now be transported elsewhere with ease.  Within eleven years of its opening, Rochester grew from a village to a city.

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Crew and Passengers of A Boat in an Erie Canal Lock, 1870

Contrary to popular opinion, Rochester’s portion was not built by Irish labor — at least, not initially. The first contractor for the canal was a man named William Britton, who had previously constructed the Auburn Prison. His idea was to use 150 convicts to hew stone for the aqueduct over the Genesee River (what is today Broad Street between the Public Library and the Blue Cross Arena). Some people objected to the use of convicts for such a purpose, fearing the “the sounds of curses and profanities” would pour into the ear of youth and other innocent onlookers.

A bigger problem, however, was security. Barely a monthly after aqueduct construction began, seven convicts escaped from their barracks. A month later, another five convicts escaped; four were recaptured, but one escaped for good. It was only the recurring problem of escaping prisoners that encouraged the contractors to draw on the labors of the newly arrived Irish.

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Erie Canal Aqueduct, 1855 (now Broad Street, between South Ave. and Exchange St.

The canal was completed on October 26, 1825. Rochester’s portion of the canal opened two years earlier and closed in 1919, when the old canal was abandoned for the newly constructed Barge Canal. Most of the old Erie Canal beds are now paved over and used for automobile traffic (e.g. Broad Street, Interstate 490, etc.), but the diligent observer occasionally can find the old bed and locks. During this bicentennial year, spare a thought for the watery highway that raised Rochester to prominence.

-Christopher Brennan



Published in: on July 3, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Caught one more time up on Dewey Avenue

Have you ever wondered why Dewey Avenue looks the way it does?

Why, for instance, does the street jut out at a diagonal slant from Lyell Avenue before heading due North when it hits Emerson Street?

dewey-current lyell edgerton

Googlemaps, 2017.

And what on earth accounts for the jog or, “dog leg,” at the street’s intersection with Driving Park Avenue?

dewey-current dog leg

Googlemaps, 2017.

What exactly were the people in charge of planning the road thinking?

As it happens, the city section of what we now know as Dewey Avenue was originally three separate streets, with three distinct names. The road has only existed in its current incarnation since the early 1900s.

The tale of how this came to be involves two different, but connected stories.

Anyone familiar with the Edgerton neighborhood (or at least the maps thereof), will know that most of the area’s “North-South” streets actually run “Northwest-Southeast”, rather than due north/south, as they do in the adjacent Lyell-Otis neighborhood. The unique direction these streets take reflects the old route of the Erie Canal, which the roads ran alongside for the better part of the 19th century.

West Street, as the southernmost section of Dewey Ave was originally known, ran directly beside the waterway, beginning at Lyell Avenue and ending at the campus of the State Industrial School (formerly the Western House of Refuge and now the site of Edgerton Park).

dewey-1888 west state

West Street originally traveled alongside the Erie Canal from Lyell Avenue to the southern  border of the State Industrial School property. Emerson Street can be seen north of the school’s campus. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1888.

Over the years, various common council members made attempts to acquire a small portion of the State Industrial School’s campus in order to extend West Street northward, but the institution’s board of managers refused the request time and time again.

Eventually, the City appealed directly to the State (which owned the property) and permission was granted in 1895 to extend West Street to Emerson Street. From Emerson Street, commuters could continue up Thrush Street as far north as Driving Park Avenue.

Dewey-1900 West St

By the time this map was drawn in 1900, West Street had been extended through the State Industrial School campus and connected to the southern tip of Thrush Street via Emerson Street. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1900.

Dewey-1888 new thrush

Thrush Street connected West Street from Emerson Street up to Driving Park Ave which lies at the top of this map. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1888.

The City had convinced the authorities in question that such an extension was in the best interests of all involved.

It was certainly in the interests of the management of the Rochester Driving Park, whose location at the corner of Driving Park Avenue and The Boulevard had heretofore only been accessible from the center of the city by a number of indirect routes.

dewey 1888-new new rdp

The Rochester Driving Park, at the corner of Driving Park Ave and The Boulevard. The northern tip of Thrush Street can be seen at the bottom of the map, just west of the Boulevard below Driving Park Ave. Rochester Plat Map, 1888.


The Rochester Driving Park, which featured  horse races and bicycle races and hosted traveling circuses and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, experienced a heydey in the 1870s and 1880s, but had begun to dip in popularity and profits by the 1890s, so the opening of the new thoroughfare in 1895 was undoubtedly welcome.

Three years later, in 1898, Alderman Selye of the 10th Ward, proposed to rename the street that formed the park’s eastern boundary–known simply as The Boulevard–to Dewey Avenue. The motion, intended to honor the recent victory of Admiral George Dewey in the Spanish-American War, met with unanimous approval.

The following February, Alderman Selye proposed the consolidation of the former Boulevard with Thrush Street and West Street, all under the name of Dewey Avenue.

This motion did not move as swiftly. While Thrush Street was renamed and “connected” to Dewey Avenue in 1899, it wouldn’t be until 1906 that West Street was similarly rechristened, thanks in part to a feud between two Aldermans of neighboring wards (since part of the street lay outside the 10th ward).

By this time, the Rochester Driving Park (the subject of a future blog post) had been sold and converted into building lots. The jarring jog at the “intersection” of Dewey and Driving Park serves as a reminder of the once popular park’s southeastern boundary.


Dewey-1910 driving park tract map

By 1910, the Rochester Driving Park tract already featured several homes on its newly laid out streets. And the former Boulevard, which formed the former park’s eastern boundary, had been renamed Dewey Avenue. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1910.


-Emily Morry


Published in: on June 20, 2017 at 3:09 pm  Comments (1)  

“I Find the Board Have Granted”: Jonathan Child (January 30, 1785-October 27, 1860)

Professional historians study history, in part, because the past can tell us much about recurring issues and current events. To be sure, this often means learning as much from history’s mistakes as from its successes.

For instance, Rochester’s first mayor, Jonathan Child, might serve as a case study in how not to deal with controversial issues. We have already seen in previous blog posts how the temperance movement arose in the 1820s and the passions that centered around it. As the first mayor of the new city of Rochester, Jonathan Child had to negotiate the controversy within the young community. He chose to do so in a most unusual way.

Jonathan Child_portrait

Jonathan Child, ca 1835-1850.

Born in Lyme, New Hampshire in 1785, Child moved to Utica, New York around 1805 and five years later moved to Charlotte. During the War of 1812, he fought in the Battle of Fort Erie, attaining the rank of Major. Following the war, he resided in Bloomfield (Ontario County), where he met and married  Sophia Eliza Rochester (November 29, 1793-March 3, 1850), eldest daughter of city founder Nathaniel Rochester. With Sophia, he had nine children.

By 1820, Child had relocated to Rochester, where he opened a store at Four Corners (West Main and State Streets). After the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, he ran a line of packet and freight boats, and a decade later organized and built the Tonawanda Railroad, Rochester’s first steam line. He served as a trustee of the village of Rochester beginning in 1827, as well as a trustee of the first bank in Rochester in 1834.

Jonathan Child_house

Jonathan Child House, 37 South Washington Street, built ca 1837. Today site of Tango Cafe Dance Studio

On April 28, 1834 Rochester received its charter as a city. Less than two months later on, June 9, 1834, the Rochester Common Council appointed Jonathan Child to serve as Rochester’s first mayor for a one-year term. In that term, Child strove to restrain the pro-alcohol forces in the city, opposing the granting of liquor licenses. The result of his effort brought the election of several Democrats to the Common Council who opposed his Whig party temperance agenda. When the new Council met in June 1835, Child was re-elected mayor, but the Council also authorized granting liquor licenses. Child was caught between a rock and a hard place because as mayor he had to sign the licenses. We will let Child explain the predicament and his solution:

“On my return from the city of New York … I find … that the new Board have granted a large number of tavern and grocery licenses. Some of these seem to me to have been obtained under the name of tavern licenses, in circumstances directly contravening the intention and letter of the legislative enactments upon the subject. Some of them also have been granted to persons to whom a similar privilege had been refused, on satisfactory personal grounds, by the previous Board. … I am constrained to act according to my own solemn convictions of moral duty and estimation of legal right. … When I find myself so situated in my official station as to be obligated either on the one hand to violate these high obligations, or on the other to stand in opposition to the declared wishes of the large majority of the Board, and through them of their constituents – my valued friends and fellow citizens — I dare not retain the public station which exposes me to this unhappy dilemma. … I therefore now most respectfully resign into your hands the office of mayor of the city of Rochester.”   

Child resigned from office on June 23, 1834 and, in the words of former City Historian Blake McKelvey, “Total abstinence lost out, and Rochester was never able to satisfy the desires of its temperance advocates.”


-Christopher Brennan

Published in: on June 13, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Rochesterville and the War of 1812


Careful readers of previous posts will note that Hamlet Scrantom (1773?-10 April 1850) settled in Rochester and moved into his new home on July 4, 1812. History buffs will know that the War of 1812 began only 16 days before, June 18, 1812, and the treaty ending the conflict was signed December 24, 1814. The more well-known battles of the war – such as Fort McHenry (Baltimore) and New Orleans – took place far from the area, but most encounters occurred in the frontier between the United States and Canada. Given that the war overlapped with the earliest dates of settlement on the Genesee, as well as the village’s proximity to the Canadian frontier, what impact did the war have on the new hamlet of Rochesterville?

On May 14, 1814, Sir James Yeo of the British Navy appeared offshore by the mouth of the Genesee River with a fleet of his ships. Rumor had it they were there to burn the Main Street Bridge, which could be used to deploy American troops to other theaters of conflict.

Having heard of a raid on Oswego eight days earlier by this same fleet, and believing the young settlement was the next target, 300 men and boys formed themselves into a local militia, drawing on troops from Rochesterville, Greece, Pittsford, and other nearby communities. The militia occupied an elevated spot near Lake Ontario, where they could observe the maneuvers of the British fleet.

Eventually a boat set off from Yeo’s ship with a flag of truce. Francis Brown (Rochesterville’s first mayor and Brown Street’s namesake) was chosen to lead a delegation down to the water’s edge to hear the enemy’s demands. It was later reported that Brown addressed the landing party as follows, “I say, hello mister! You don’t come on this ground ‘til I know what you are after! So just stay in the boat and say your say out!”

1812_james lucas yeo

James Lucas Yeo, early 19th century portrait.

The commander demanded the surrender of the militia’s stores (i.e., supplies, most likely flour, pork, and whisky) or risk destruction of the area. He also noted that if public property in the area was surrendered, private property would be respected. He then produced a paper signed by the citizens of Oswego that said the United States government had left a large quantity of stores and munitions in Oswego, but the residents of the town would not risk their lives to protect it.

Obviously, the British hoped the capitulation of their neighbors to the east would serve as a precedent for the Genesee region. Brown noted that he had to consult his superiors and then left. Upon his return, he noted, “I am ordered by the general to tell you we shall keep the stores until the King shall send a force sufficient to take it away. So, if you want them badly, you must get them the best way you can.” The British emissaries thereupon returned to their ship.

1812_fair jeanne

Fair Jeanne, an 1812-Replica Tall Ship arriving at Port of Rochester

Like Civil War Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder 48 years later, Brown and his colleagues then put on a display that left the invaders flummoxed. The militia marched off to the left into the brush and marched around to the right. They emerged from the brush and appeared atop the hill in a different order than before, so that it appeared from a distance to be a new company of soldiers. They marched off again and another body of men appeared in front when they came to another part of the hill. These men too marched off and disappeared.

The maneuvers continued until the British thought there was a large army of combatants awaiting them. The British fired a few random shots (to no avail) and then sailed away.  Thus ended Rochesterville’s contribution to the “Second War of American Independence!”

-Christopher Brennan



Published in: on June 6, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)